He was there the day she first came home from the hospital. And though he was less than please with her infringement on his despotic rule of our household, he became a model "big brother" - patient to a fault, submitting to being crowded, pinched, having paws run over by strollers and toys, and, despite our best efforts, having to play second fiddle to a baby.
We broke every conventional "wisdom" with him - giving him more freedom once Otter came home. He would sit on the bed with us while I nursed, sometimes putting his giant head on my lap. I would put SB on his bed, a tiny infant lying near a giant of a 100 lb. pit bull. He gained bed sleeping privileges for the first time. We'd often curl up together - all 4 of us squished on a queen-sized bed.
And as Otter grew, she did so with him as a constant, furry, larger-than-life companion. Whether she was trying to climb on him, dress him in Christmas hats, make sure he got his fair share of pancakes, join him on fund-raising walks for homeless dogs, pummel him, or - ultimately - hug and kiss him, she loved him with all her heart. She grew to respect all animals, to approach them carefully - or at least more carefully than most toddlers do.
On September 20, 2011, Foster died.
More terrifying than sitting at the vet, knowing we'd never see him again, more frightening than the deafening silence, emptiness and lifelessness that filled our house with his absence, was the prospect of explaining to my 3-year-old that this incredible fixture in her life was no more.
Bree and I waffled between the big doggie playground in the sky or that he became a star. In the end, we followed the advice of SB's teacher, and told her the simple truth: Foster was very, very sick, and he died. No fables, no euphemisms. Those, said her teacher, were for us, the parents. Otter would understand, albeit in her own way.
SB is taking the news in stages. Though she first ignored any mention, telling us she wanted to play, she's since been asking about him.
"Where is Foster?"
"Can we go get him?"
Her questions make my heart bleed. My answers tear it to pieces.
Last night she asked me, "But where did he go?" And after a panicked pause, I again, told her the truth. "I don't know honey," I said. "But he won't be coming back to our house." I suggested making an album of his photos to remember.
I'd like to think that perhaps he did become a star, his dogly energy - a glow that outshines his physical size a million-fold - returning to the infinite universe. If that is the euphemism I need, I'll take it. My great pain is that on his celestial journey, he took an irreplaceable part of me with him. Though that's the least I can offer him.
Rest in peace, Foster.